ANS Exclusive Interview: Inside The Fillipino Manga Industry With Nautilus Comics By: Jonah Morgan
As evidenced in recent months, Southeast Asia is currently experiencing a boom in the areas of Comics, Animation and character licensing from abroad. Over $1,000,000 in manhwa licensing over the weekend of San Diego.... Lucasfilm's animation studio move into Singapore... These events and many others have shifted the absolute focus of character related licensing in the Asia region away from Japan. Today we're going to enter The Phillipines, another local vibrant area of talent and creative force. There, a relatively small and young studio called Nautilus Comics has been making very large waves in the local market. Their title Siglo: Freedom, has just won the Manila Critics Circle's National Book Award for 2004. We recently talked to Jamie Bautista of the studio:
1. First of all can you tell us a little about yourselves and where you come from in relation to CAST? Who are some of your influences as far as art, character design, and storytelling?
I've been reading comics for quite a while, but I've been collecting comics religiously since 1994. I majored in Communication Arts and graduated cum laude. My first job was as a writer/graphic artist for a glossy magazine here, but then I left to do freelance graphic art. Later, I did a part-time teaching stint at my old college, the Ateneo de Manila, teaching freshman English (fiction and general writing classes) and a summer elective on comics theory. This is where I met Elbert, who was one of my students. He was one of those "nightmare students" in that he knew more about comics than I did! We kept in touch and when I decided to put up my own comic company, I tapped Elbert to help me out as an editor and pretty much as a COO.
Cast came about when Elbert suggested that we pitch a comic to one of the local publishers here. He would draw and I would write. I join two school plays in high school and I always thought the people and the world of theater was very fascinating and fun. So one idea I gave was this series about high school kids doing a play. But as we found out about the story limitations the publishers had (number of issues allowed, content, etc), we decided to go ahead and publish the story ourselves. One of my uncles had an existing publishing company that wasn't doing anything, so we pitched the idea of doing comics to him and asked for control of the company.
Cast allows me to do all the romantic comedy/ drama type stories that I love and yet it allows for some exotic and almost fantasy-styled elements to be used due to the theatrical element of the series. So I get to do heart-warming teen hi-jinx while our artists can still dabble with some elaborate costumes, sets and even fantasy scenes from the script.
Personally, I was heavily influenced by the "slice of life" comic creators like Alex Robinson (Box Office Poison), Craig Thompson (Blankets, Goodbye, Chunky Rice) and Tom Beland (True Story, Swear to God). But my biggest influence would probably be Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), who is a master of emotional storytelling, expressive character art and inventive layouts. Films like "Shall We Dance" and "Almost Famous" also influenced the themes and storytelling styles I use. While I never really intended Cast to be manga style (this came out mainly due to market demands and the available artists), some anime series that did influence me were Cooking Master Boy and Slam Dunk, in the way they explained their core concepts (cooking and basketball) in such interesting detail yet managed to weave these descriptions into the plot so well and seamlessly. It definitely made me want to do something similar with Cast and the world of theater.
2. And so you guys based alot of the reality elements of CAST on things you saw in your own and others' life experience being young?
Though a lot of the elements of Cast are based from my experiences, it isn't really autobiographical. If anything, it's more of a "What If" type of deal where I try to imagine how things would have been if certain events in my life had turned out differently. Other storylines are amalgamations of certain experiences from other times in my life. While other ideas are just wild stuff that grew out of the setting of high school theater.
I was actually in the play "Camelot" back in my old high school and another play called "Thirteen Daughters" which was done by an all-girls' school. The basic story of Cast is a mix of these two experiences. Many of the characters are not based on any particular friends but rather combinations of different people I knew back in those days. My own life stories are really more of springboard for ideas rather than actual sources.
Personally, the main attraction of doing this type of story is nostalgia. In a way, writing Cast lets me travel back in time and relive some of the most fun moments in my life. At times it allows me to relive those memories differently. That's the sort of my selfish motivation for doing this.
3. CAST is said to be illustrated in Manga style with distinct Fillipino art overtones. For those outside of the Phillipines, can you elaborate on what defines those Fillipino styling cues? I understand it must be a difficult question, translating an art technique into words...
One of the biggest debates in this country among local creators is about what constitutes a "Filipino art style." Considering the overwhelming popularity of manga here, a unique national style doesn't seem to be emerging. But then again, we're a country that is known for taking in the traditions and ticks of other cultures then remolding them slightly into something new. We were under the Spanish, Americans and Japanese for decades (and dealt with the Chinese for centuries) and our culture is really a big mishmash of all these different traditions. So perhaps Filipino styling cues comes from altering existing styles to fit our own setting and personalities.
For Cast, Elbert designed the characters in his own style (which to me is more like a mix between Tintin's Herge's and Bruce Timm's styles) then let the artists of Ronin Core Art Group add their own manga twist to it (since that is the style our artists are accustomed to). Thus you have the typical manga hair, noses, mouths and big eyes on some characters. But we tried to refrain from using some of the explicitly Japanese visual cues (like nose bleeds, giant tears or SD characters, though some still come through because of our artists' sensibilities) and rely more on actual acting or facial expressions to express emotion, since Filipinos are naturally expressive people. We don't use weirdly sculpted or colored hair (we retain Filipino hair colors like brown and black) and try to use varied skin tones. Some of our characters are Filipino-Chinese so things like their eyes and skin color have to differ from the more "indio" or "mestizo" characters. Rather than simply using common manga archetypes, we let the demands of our story and our setting affect the character designs and art style.
Of course, the "manga style" itself has many variations (not all have large eyes and pink hair. e.g. Slam Dunk) so I can't say that these little deviations from the traditional manga style makes our art more Filipino. I guess it's more the merging of the manga/anime style with Elbert's personal art style that makes it unique. The styling decisions dictated by story's setting (the Philippines) are what make our particular style...Filipino.
4. And Nautilus studios is your publishing label for CAST, can you gives some background on the studio and what it's future plans are?
Nautilus Comics is an imprint of Mango Books, which was originally created to publish textbooks. We rarely use the official company name to avoid confusion with another local publisher, Mango Comics. Since the company (which was mainly only a company on paper without any real brick and mortar facility) hadn't had any projects in a couple of years, we decided to take it over and turn it into a comic publishing company. Right now it only has two projects: Siglo (which is an annual project) and Cast. The long term goal is to promote quality Filipino comics which other publishers may be afraid to take on due to the perceived lack of marketability of such projects. As much as possible, we try to accept projects based on the quality of the book, no matter how hard a sell it may be. Sure, it's an uphill battle, but it's definitely a battle worth fighting since there are so many talented comic creators in the country who aren't given a chance to shine. If Siglo and Cast take off, we hope to venture into projects like other graphic novels, anthologies and even webcomics.
5. I am aware of your previous project Siglo: Freedom. How far a direction shift for Nautilus is CAST from your previous works?
Cast is a totally different animal from Siglo: Freedom. Siglo is a purely artistic venture, done in book form. It was created without sales or a target audience in mind. So our whole marketing strategy had to conform to the needs of the book. Also, as a book, sales were the only possible source of revenue. Cast is a bit more commerical in nature. Being a periodical, we can accept ads and even product placement in the stories. Elbert and I are more flexible in terms of storytelling and art, and so we will bend to the demands of the market. This is partly why we got Ronin Core Art Group as our artists, since manga and anime are the most marketable styles right now. We can't be too high-brow or racy in Cast due to our need for sponsors. We also had a very specific target audience in mind (teenagers, mostly girls) and we had to make sure the series would appeal to them and interest them.
Still, we try to balance all that with our own artistic integrity. That's why our art isn't totally manga in execution and why I still fight with tooth and nail to keep my story as MY story. Cast is tougher to manage creatively than Siglo, but we hope to reach a much happier balance between profitability and literary value with Cast. Between these two projects, we at Nautilus are forced to study and fight against all the forces from the different aspects of publishing. And the differences between book and periodical publishing are many. Hopefully, this will enable us to tackle any type of project in the future, no matter how unique its requirements are.
6. When will CAST be released in your country and how has the recption from fans and the retail venues been?
The prologue issue has been out since June and the first issue will be out by the end of August. Reception has been pretty good from comic shops (especially from teenaged girls). However, other retail outlets like magazine stands and bookstores have been hesitant because comics are still a risky proposition in our country. Again, it is tough to convince retailers to stock a lot of copies and to display Cast prominently on their shelves. The fact that we're a small and new company doesn't help either. But our constant promotional activities like comic workshops at malls and schools, plus radio and print ads help give us media mileage that is slowly allowing retailers to trust us.
Siglo:Freedom winning the National Book Awards also has been a major coup which should also help in gaining retailer support.
7. Where can readers inside your country find CAST in retail outlets and is it available internationally?
Readers in the Philippines can find Cast in fine comic book shops like Comic Quest and Central Comic Headquarters. It is also available in branches of Anonymous (a clothing shop). Select magazine stands also have it available. Right now, Cast isn't available internationally yet, but people interested can email us at email@example.com or me personally at Jamie@Bautista.com and we can work something out. We have plans to distribute Cast internationally, but it's too soon to tell if it will be possible.
Our first book, Siglo: Freedom will be available internationally, however. It is listed in the August issue of Previews for shipping in October by Diamond Distributors. If anyone is interested in checking out this award-winning graphic novel, ask your local comic retailer to order a copy. If sales do well, this may allow us to also solicit Cast through Diamond.